Music has always been the most important aspect of my life, besides my phone. I was about seven or eight when I was introduced to music and dance. I would sit in front of the TV and watch music videos and learn the choreography of my favorites like Missy Elliot, Michael Jackson, Usher, and B2K to say the least. I would hang out with friends around the neighborhood and make up dance routines and even write songs. (I swore I could sing when I was younger; I can’t.) In elementary school, I became well known for my participation in almost every event. I would dance, play the African drums, I even performed The Temptations two years in a row (the second time, I was David Ruffin). I even gave a speech at my fifth grade graduation. In middle school, I continued to pursue music in band class, I also participated in choir and dance performances, and I won trophies for reciting Arthur Ashe’s speech on multiculturalism in Forensics competitions, which I delivered well enough to recite again in front of the entire school. Every opportunity I had to be on stage I tried to seize it, and although it’s harder now to find an accepting stage, I’m more devoted than ever to continue.
First studio recording
When I was about 14 years old, there was a surge of battle dance groups surfacing in Milwaukee. These dance groups started making their own music to dance to and ya boy hopped on the bandwagon. I remember walking into the studio so unsure of what to do. I had never done my own music or lyrics in front of people besides my family and closest friends. To my surprise, the song became pretty popular, and so were the other two artists that were on the track. This was both beneficial and horrifying because I was living essentially a double life. I knew I wasn’t as “straight” as I was pretending to be. I saved boys’ numbers as girl names and always found ways of covering my tracks until my business came to light. I started getting so many inboxes and phone calls from everyone I knew with reactions ranging from acceptance to death threats, and I just shut down and stopped showing my face. I was terrified to leave my house at one point because everyone knew where I lived. I had friends walk with me from the bus stop, and I carried makeshift weapons with me all the time.
Finding my confidence off stage
By this time, I was attending Milwaukee High School of the Arts, which was the beginning of discovery for me. I surrounded myself with some of the most accepting and loving people and developed a sense of confidence that I usually only had on stage. I even started making beats and creating music on my old laptop. My name back then was “Bam” (I came up with Adonis when I started meeting Drag Kings & Queens), and I released a couple songs for a talent show we had at school. I loved the energy in high school because it was always supportive and creative. I started dressing differently, I smiled more, I learned how to walk with my head held higher. I came out when I was 16, and I haven’t really looked back at those days of being in the closet since. In high school, I studied band (clarinet & alto saxophone) as well as dance, and with all this confidence and stage presence built up, I ended up with a minimum wage job and a lot of hopes and dreams.
Diagnosis and stigma
I was diagnosed with HIV in late 2016, and I’ve been undetectable for almost four years now. I remember being first diagnosed and being so ashamed of myself as someone who has participated in so many programs designated toward HIV/STD prevention and awareness. I felt as someone who was already involved with spreading the message that I would be looked at as irresponsible or contradictory. I didn’t tell anyone for a while. I was numb. I thought to myself, “If I take my medicine and get to undetectable, I’ll be fine. No one has to know (besides anyone I was having sex with).” It wasn’t until my mom found my pill bottle that I was forced to tell anyone my situation. When I told my mom and stepdad, I felt I was letting my mom down because of all the conversations we’d had about HIV and my knowledge about how not to get it. After that, things in the house became intense. I began to think that HIV could be spread through the most ignorant ways like: I was worried I could spread HIV by going to the Barbershop. I began to question everything I learned, even knowing the accurate statistics. I began to worry about being that one percent. I started to stigmatize myself.
The value of accurate information
I chose to work in this field because I now understand the value of educating people on accurate information. I literally went from not caring at all, to standing up for the millions of gay Black teenagers and young men that are at risk of transmission. I’ve worked with some incredibly intelligent, humble, passionate people. I’ve gotten to travel and work with people on a national level to bring awareness to stigma and policies that discriminate and criminalize HIV.
Making music, speaking the truth
It was about a year after my diagnosis that music became prominent again in my life. I found an old notebook with some rhymes from when I was a teenager, and I got inspired to create. I pulled out another old laptop, downloaded the FL studios (demo version), and I started editing and mixing music and writing rhymes again. I got a studio microphone and a cheap mixing program and made Out The Closet while I was literally in my closet. Out The Closet was my first project that had full tracks on it, and there were some fun rhymes I threw together on some random beats, but it was the first time I spoke my reality instead of what I thought people wanted to hear. A lot of people said that it was garbage but a lot of people supported me too, so I kept going. My first official single Money Over N***** was an unexpected hit! That’s when people started paying attention. That same year the EP Di’Vil Season was released and tracks like Good For Him & Alligator became very popular in the community. I remember walking down the street and hearing someone playing my song in their car, and I almost cried. I’ve also been stopped at the bus stop to be asked if I was “Adonis.” My most recent release is titled Everything, and I just released a music video for the leading single Ratchet.
Discrimination in hip-hop
Even though a lot of my experiences have been positive, I’ve definitely run into my fair share of descrimination. My first live performance was a competition based on performance, marketability, and the quality of music. I scored high on performance and quality, and my marketability score was so low that I ended up in last place (I was robbed). There were times I paid DJs to play my songs, and when they heard a gay reference, they immediately turned off the music or switched the song and was even told my sound isn’t something people want to listen to. I never let any of that discourage me. Hip-hop has been homophobic since the late 90s, maybe even sooner than that.
Rappers tend to over masculinize themselves to be the best. Hip-hop is a competitive sport, and all the MVPs were from the hood, sold drugs, love sex with a lot of women, and usually refer to their opponent as a “bitch” or “fag” to blatenlty say that if you are not man in this game, nobody will take you serious. It also reflects the reality of living in the hood and being openly gay. You’re going to get stares and mean mugs; you might even get yelled at from a random car. That’s just our (Black LGBTQ community) reality. It’s extremely humbling to be a part of a generation ready and willing to change. Gay men in hip-hop are not formally accepted yet, but there is hope for the future.
The Milwaukee club scene
With all that being said, take into account that Milwaukee is one of the most (if not the most) segregated cities in the United States. I am a young Black male rap artist, and there are no urban gay bars/clubs in Milwaukee. The Black gay people I know usually only go to LaCage because there is a dance floor. I go to LaCage because there’s a dance floor. As far as performing at said place, I doubt if they’d have me, but then again I never asked. There was a club called Candy Lounge on Villard that was open for about nine months, and I performed there often and was a promoter for a while. The atmosphere was completely different from being in a club or bar downtown. Any club or bar that’s in the hood is completely different from the ones downtown. However, through that experience, I became known as “that rapper dude” whenever I met people. My first and second performance at This Is It was very awkward, I think because it was a drag cast, and I was the random rapper. I mean, it never really isn’t awkward, but I always keep high energy. One time one of the guys in the audience at the bar (he was Black) said in my ear, “These white people don’t know what they talkin’ ‘bout—you killed it!” I just laughed and thanked him because I knew that even if they didn’t vibe with it, somebody in the crowd did, and that’s all the gratification I needed. I remember how upset everyone was when I got my stage placement for PrideFest 2019. It was at 4:30pm on the Rainbow Stage, which is way in the back behind the playground. I was just excited to even be a part of PrideFest. I sent emails. I had other people send emails. I had people recommend me, and I went through so many hoops to just earn a spot. I didn’t really mind where I was as long as I was seen.
Offering encouragement and empowerment
There are so many young Black boys struggling with their identity and with acceptance, and there are so many obstacles that you face as a Black man every single day. So to endure the battle that comes with homosexuality while facing a harsh world should be powerful, yet Black people are still some of the most homophobic individuals, often stemming from Christianity. I feel it’s my obligation to keep going and to use what I know to encourage, teach, and empower people like me: the people who always felt that they had no place to go. Hip-hop is a territory dominated by toxic masculinity and derogatory messages about women, yet here comes my gay ass to interupt the average programming. What I’ve learned from my mom, from being exposed and threatened, catching HIV, and in the rap game is that life never goes the way you plan it. All you can do is be prepared for the outcome. Meaning, sometimes it may seem hopeless and dark but there is still a way to make your life yours. Knowledge is power, and our schools aren’t the best. Even worse is that our parents were taught some ignorant and false information about history and sex. We have to unlearn and change the perspective of stigmatizing information that is inaccurate and teach what needs to be taught.
Inclusive education and spaces
We need to teach inclusive Black, Native American, and LGBTQ history and inclusive sexual education that is based on evidence and includes all the information, skills, and tools all young people need to make healthy decisions. Don’t just say, “Sex is bad, don’t do it, you’ll catch an STI.” Telling that to 15-year-old me is like telling me not to smoke weed: I’m going to do it and not tell you about it until I get caught. We also have to create spaces for everyone. Evidence-based programs, such as IAM (Intersectionality Among Men) at Diverse & Resilient in Milwaukee, have been highly effective in the response to HIV in Black and Brown communities.
Next stop: Atlanta
I’m excited to say my next adventure is in Atlanta. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I believe that with God on my side and all this positive energy pulsing through my soul that I can conquer any battle and overcome any challenge if I stay focused, driven, and strategic about how I maneuver. Life is hard and doesn’t get any easier, but the good moments make up for all the bad.